FINE ARTS COLUMNIST
It is the day before Thanksgiving, and for the first time since June, I am sitting in the living room of the house in which I grew up. There are a thousand subjects I could choose to write about as my tenure as fine arts columnist draws to a close, but they form a looming cloud which chants down at me, “This is your last column, and you must choose something really significant to write about, so don’t mess it up.”
In a way, these voices have been following me since childhood. Life has so many endings in it that it’s practically woven from them. Without fail, each one brings with it a desire to make the moment count, to make it last forever in one perfect memory. The joke is on the endings this time, though, because I simply can’t choose. So, I shall simply write until I am contractually obligated to stop.
Dear fellow artists, don’t let this perfectionism petrify your art. Do you realize how many threads you bring together across time, across continents when you create? You weave from beautiful but imperfect materials; what makes you think your art will be perfect?
And oh, you lovers of fine art, don’t let this perfectionism curdle your appreciation of what is true, and good, and beautiful. It is profoundly practical to take some time alone with a novel periodically because it keeps the mind healthy and reminds us that we live for the source of all beauty, God himself.
And my dear readers, don’t let this perfectionism rule your lives as a whole. I am well aware that this has been said countless times, but anything worth saying once is worth saying again: You will never achieve perfection in this life. Be ready to take risks and change your plans. And be still. And listen. If you do one thing, find the silence to listen, to pray, to take whatever step is next for you. Much as I love music, there is far too little silence in the world today.
We human beings spend a great deal of time studying how we got where we are and wondering where we will go next. Many things change even as many stay the same. The quote with which I began this column was written by a prisoner in Cologne, Germany, during the Second World War. In 2011, it was set to music by a composer from Norway. In 2018, it was recorded by a choir from Denver, and in 2019, I heard it for the first time, thanks to Spotify.
Spotify is a Swedish company, so I suppose one moral of this story is to be thankful for Scandinavians. But a deeper moral might be what it expresses about art and history. They are inseparable, and they influence each other in ways we live out. The occasion for the prisoner’s grief may now be long gone, but grief endures with new faces, as does the prisoner’s message. Art builds us up in times of struggle, and it comments on historical events, weaving itself into the narrative like pictures in a book.
For some of us, our time at Franciscan will draw to a close quite soon. For others of us, it is barely beginning. A parade of endings and beginnings. Though I may no longer write for the Troubadour, I assure you I shall continue to write — where, as of yet, I do not know. But for now, I may occasionally be found at Cupertino’s through the coming semester. If you perchance should find yourself in the same place and should see me there, I should welcome the opportunity to converse with you about art or any matter. I may be an introvert, but I do enjoy good company.
Life may not be perfect, but it can be beautiful, and art is a medicine sent to remind of us this fact. My prayers are with you all, dear readers. Have a blessed Advent and a merry Christmas.